Born and raised in the US, Jill was trafficked into sex slavery from her home state of Ohio in 1981 at the age of 14. She made one attempt to escape, which led to punishment so severe that she never tried again. Contacting her family was out of the question, in part because she had left behind a dangerous home environment to become one of between 1.3 and 2.8 million runaway and homeless youth in America. These individuals are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation by traffickers: the Department of Justice estimates that 293,000 youth are at risk. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates that “1 in 5 of the 11,800 runways reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 2015 were likely sex trafficking victims.” Jill notes that after her liberation from slavery, she “still didn’t exist as anything more than a slave, except I was an escaped slave.” Jill still felt “less than human” after her three-year captivity ended, and struggled to recognize herself as a human individual. But narrating her story, she explains, is “an integral part of my recovery.”
In 1981, I became a statistic: I became a runaway teen, escaping sexual and physical abuse. When I ran away, I no longer had a place to live with my parents nor did I have a living relative who would take me in. Filled with a sense of bravado, invincibility and bravery, I left, figuring that my life couldn’t be in any more jeopardy than it already was at what I’d called home. In leaving I hoped there would be no more broken bones, no more sexual abuse, no more rationalizations of molestation and cruelty. When I left that day, I had no more than a change of clothes and under one hundred dollars. No longer did my name, childhood identity, school or grades matter. All became irrelevant in the world I was about to enter.
As a runaway teen, your old concerns quickly disappear and are replaced by new, life threatening ones. There were no familiar faces and no one who wanted to talk to a teenage girl who was homeless; even my name became irrelevant. Instead, my concerns were more pragmatic, involving finding food, shelter, water and passing time without the money to financially support these needs. I’d resorted to sleeping in cemeteries, and stealing food out of dumpsters and from convenience stores in order to eat. Getting drinking water and a chance to wash my face became quests of endurance. I had to hide from security guards, store and restaurant employees and others who didn’t want a homeless girl “loitering.” As a runaway teen, I was viewed as something less than human. Still, it was safer than going home.
Into my hunger, loneliness and desperation came a man named Bruce. Attractive, well dressed and very charismatic, he approached me in a suburban mall and offered to “help” me. He could provide me with food, shelter, clothing, work—and I really wanted to work. I wanted desperately to be off the street and to have something to do. In essence he knew exactly how to manipulate a desperate teenage girl with his promises to fulfill all my needs. The manipulation began within minutes of meeting him. When I questioned whether or not this “work” was prostitution, he retracted the offer and began to walk away. Desperate, I ran after him, pleading with him to give me another chance and to forgive my insult.
He brought me into his “office” (which was actually his cellar) blindfolded under the pretense of not wanting competitors to know his location in case I was a spy for them. I put my fear aside and agreed to being blindfolded because I needed what he was offering. When we went into his “office,” he explained that I had to audition for the job and should step on the stage and raise my hands. When I did so, I felt leather straps being put around my wrists but didn’t understand what was going on. He pulled my pants down and my shirt up, leaving me virtually naked. When I tried to stop him from undressing me, the reality of what was happening became very clear. He shoved out the wooden box I was standing on, and I was left hanging in mid air naked, suspended by my wrists. It was the beginning of my “training” for a position as a prostitute that catered to “clients,” who wanted to act on their violent bondage/torture fantasies. While still hanging from my wrists, I was told that unless I agreed then to sign a contract, I would never be let down. This threat was followed, while I was still hanging by being hit, punched, whipped and penetrated with a beer bottle. I could barely breathe, and my arms, wrists and shoulders were screaming in pain. I gave up and agreed to sign, at which point I was let down, bound behind my back, gagged and blindfolded, thrown into a tiny closet under the cellar stairs without food or water and left there. Bruce did not come back until after what seemed like a couple of days, at which time he freed my hands and told me to sign by his finger while I was still blindfolded. What I signed was what is known in these “rape and snuff” circles as a slave contract. By doing so I was essentially agreeing that I was no longer a human being, but rather, a slave, whose sole purpose in life was the fulfillment of Bruce’s desires and those of his “clients.” The contract took away my right to feel, to speak without approval, to have emotions. In it, I agreed to do anything that I was told and to accept any punishment or training he determined necessary.
What followed next—the “training”—was months of being tortured, starved, dehydrated, sensory deprived and raped. I was supposed to learn how to “want” to be a slave and “want” to be punished. To that end, I had to beg for everything, using phrases that Bruce had written. I had to apologize for being alive, had to thank him for each act of torture and beg for more. If I resisted, the punishments got worse, until I gave up and agreed.
Once he was satisfied that my training period was nearing the end he began to refer me to “clients” who would use my body for their fetishes. They paid Bruce to rent my body to rape in as many ways as they could devise without killing me. I was held underwater in toilets or bathtubs, whipped, hung, shocked with electrical current, and paid to have me tell them how much I was enjoying it.
One of my early clients portrayed himself as a nice guy who was going to help me escape, which I agreed to try. It turned out to be a test of my “loyalty,” the failure of which resulted in a savage night of gang rape, beating, being hung by my wrists and ankles, and an attempt to hang me by my neck which left me physically scarred and damaged my vocal chords for life. I nearly died that night and never tried to escape again.
For three years I was forced to let men rape me for Bruce’s profit. During that time, I’d nearly been killed several times, including Bruce’s failed attempt to perform an abortion on me after I’d become pregnant. In 1982, I entered a suburban Los Angeles hospital bleeding extensively from my vaginal area. On my wrists, ankles and neck were burns, cuts and scars. Having been hung from the ceiling by my wrists while my pimp attempted to abort a child that I was pregnant with, I was in shock and nearly unconscious when I was brought into the hospital. A broken, long neck beer bottle had been shoved into my vagina as the object to remove the fetus. Needless to say, it didn’t work out. The fetus remained in my womb but the abortion attempt nearly killed me.
Fearing retaliation from my pimp, I didn’t communicate to the doctors what had actually transpired, but instead, remained silent allowing my pimp’s explanation of my abortion attempt to go unchallenged. Had these doctors given any thought their ethical oaths it should have occurred to them that the bruises, scars, strangulation marks, etc. were inconsistent with attempting to abort my own child. Exactly how did I destroy my larynx attempting to abort a child? How did I self-inflict leather strap burn marks around my wrists and ankles? Since I was an in-patient for three days, why wasn’t a mental health professional sent to talk to me? Why was I questioned only in the presence of my pimp who was masquerading as my older brother, who was pretending to help his psychotic little sister? Had I been questioned alone and placed in the psychiatric ward away from him, perhaps the outcome would have been different.
When we left a Midwestern city, I was thrown into the trunk of a car and taken across country. After being left in the trunk for long periods of time in the southwest desert in July, I became sick from dehydration. At one point this pimp took me out of the car on a remote road in the desert, handcuffed me, tied me by my neck to the bumper of his car and told me he was going to drag me until I was nothing but hair and a grease stain. This fate was guaranteed unless I agreed to remain totally compliant.
Arriving at an Arizona truck stop, he pulled me out of the car, took off the blindfold and shackles and told me to walk with him into the truck stop and get a Pepsi. Weak from fatigued, dehydration and exhaustion, I couldn’t walk. I became violently ill on the brick patio of the truck stop. EMS was called to the scene. I was violently ill, dirty from head to toe, and had sores on both my wrists from the handcuffs and the corners of my mouth from being gagged for days. Did they call the police? No. They accepted his explanation of the death of “our parents” and his care taking of his schizophrenic little sister. Why didn’t they ask questions? Why did they only treat the symptoms of heat exhaustion and not ask how I got to that point? Why did the lady getting into her Cadillac with her husband not help me as the pimp was tying my hands behind my back and putting me back into the trunk in plain view?
These incidents are not meant to shock, but to illustrate the reality of my day-to-day life. Bruce and his “clients” inflicted every torture imaginable on me, forcing me to do disgusting, humiliating things which have had a devastating effect on my mind, my body and my soul.
In 1984, my captivity came to an abrupt end. Bruce was arrested on unrelated charges, and I was able to escape after he’d been handcuffed and taken away. The police who arrested Bruce offered me no support, despite finding a young girl locked in a closet, bound gagged and blindfolded. Even my request for a female officer to speak to was denied. The police told me that there were there to execute a warrant and that I’d better shut up or I was going to be arrested, too. I wasn’t even 18 yet.
Taking whatever money I could find in the house, I left immediately, taking a taxi to the airport and flying to the first destination available with the amount of money I had. After arriving in the new city, I found a cheap hotel and literally slept for days. The face I saw in the mirror when I awoke was hardly like the one I’d seen at age 14. I’d lost a third of my body weight. My once thick, long hair had fallen out in clumps and was now thin, fragile and lifeless. Emotionally, I was still stunned, lost in my own world, trying to readjust to a life that suddenly left me free but with no place to go and no one to turn to. Sleep was filled with nightmares, daytime with flashbacks and raging paranoia of being located by Bruce. After three years of eating dog food and being forced to beg for it, I was unaccustomed to eating anything normal and struggled with anorexia. In essence, I still didn’t exist as anything more than a slave, except I was an escaped slave.
It has been more than a decade since then. In many ways, I’ve recovered, having eventually regained enough sanity to get a job and hold it. The physical injuries either healed or scarred, and I learned to compensate. But having survived this experience doesn’t mean I’ve become safe from it.
Depression is still part of my life, as is shame, fear and a strong drive for self-destruction. I still feel like I’m crazy and fear that I’m a burden to my friends, a failure as an employee and that I’m destined to again be homeless, vulnerable and alone.
There are issues on which I’m working towards recovery: an integral part of my recovery is speaking out about what happened to me, what I faced as a runaway teen, and what I face even to this day trying to live with the memory of what I survived. I write this story so that maybe someone who hears it will somehow be able to avoid the pain that was forced on me and for others to know that things like I experienced really do happen—and they can happen to anyone’s daughter, sister, girlfriend, niece or wife.
Through whatever fluke, I escaped without having any sexually transmitted diseases, but there were other serious consequences. My ability to have children was destroyed, my voice is a raspy shell of its former self from being choked with ropes, belts, hands, etc. There are extensive and deep scars many places on my body. Emotionally, the effects were worse. Flashbacks, nightmares and depression have been constant battles since my escape. It has taken a great deal of therapy and support from friends for me to evolve to a point where I’m able to move on. It has also seriously impacted my ability to have and maintain relationships. Until recently, my relationships were dominated by failure. Many ‘romantic’ relationships turned out to be with abusive men. In the rare instances that I found a quality person who did love me, I usually destroyed the relationship with my actions. It took many years for me to deprogram the need to self-destruct. Recently, I’ve evolved to the point where I’m no longer seeking suicide through self-destruction. Instead I’m working on living. On maintaining the friendships and relationships with the really awesome people who are in my life now. I have some really wonderful, supportive friends who I love, and I believe love me. A great deal of therapy has gone into believing that I’m worth these quality friends and can maintain the relationship. I’ve hurt too many people in the past through my low self-esteem and self-destruction. But going forward, it’s my goal to see beyond the horrors of the past and fatalistic programming, and instead focus on the future and on being authentic to myself. And on a commitment to living.
Narrative as written by the narrator, 1997